Tucker Carlson analysis: Opponents make Bush look good in absentia
By TUCKER CARLSON
October 29, 1999
Web posted at: 6:43 p.m. EDT (2243 GMT)
There are a lot of theories about why George W. Bush is so far ahead in the Republican primary -- he has more money, he has better connections, he has a more famous surname. All of these are true. But after last night's town meeting, I've concluded that Bush is winning mostly because he's more talented than any Republican running against him.
He's certainly better on the stump. Of the five candidates who spoke last night, only Alan Keyes managed to be eloquent, or even very interesting to watch. (Keyes also happens to be the candidate least likely to be elected to anything, ever.) Gary Bauer came off as weirdly slick. Sen. Orrin Hatch staged a one-man orgy of self-congratulation, all but bursting into song in tribute to his own wisdom, prescience, and countless path-breaking accomplishments. Steve Forbes, meanwhile, after spending $75 million and four years of his life campaigning continuously, still didn't manage to look presidential. Despite the new haircut.
And then there was John McCain. McCain is the one Republican in the race with a plausible chance of toppling George W. Bush. New Hampshire is the key to McCain's victory scenario; he will win there or not at all. For McCain, the town meeting mattered. He fell short.
For one thing, he seemed uncomfortable. The format may have been part of the problem. McCain always looks uncomfortable when he stands, and particularly when he walks. Both of his arms were smashed when he ejected from his plane over North Vietnam in 1967, and improperly set during his five and a half years as a prisoner of war. To this day, McCain cannot raise his arms above his head. (One of his aides must comb his hair.) The effect, on camera at least, can make McCain look stiff and tense.
His message didn't help. As virtually anyone who has served with him in Congress will tell you (often without even asking) McCain has a tendency toward self-righteousness. In person, this is leavened by his terrific sense of humor and well-developed irony. McCain is by far the most amusing presidential candidate to have dinner with.
Television, however, seems to filter out McCain's most appealing qualities. What's left can sound a lot like hyperbolic grandstanding, drained of all nuance or thoughtfulness. "Average Americans are no longer represented in Washington, D.C.," he thundered. "I will fight to the last breath I draw to eliminate the influence of special interests ... I will not rest until I give the government back to you."
That's not what McCain really sounds like (though it is what Ross Perot really sounds like). Too bad every voter in New Hampshire can't have dinner with him once in a while. He'd probably win.
Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines.